Fire museum forced to put vintage trucks up for sale in effort to stay open

A Nova Scotia museum that tells the story of Canada’s oldest fire service is putting some of its history up for sale in a last-ditch effort to stay open.

The Regional Firefighters Interpretation Center in Fall River, N.S., can’t afford to pay rent and rising utility costs, which total about $6,000 a year, and says it will close for good if it can’t come up with the money.

It’s hoping to make a few thousand dollars each from two vintage fire trucks— American LaFrance pumpers from 1958 and 1971 — which are the centrepiece of the museum’s collection.  

On display at the museum is a rescue jump net that was carried on aerial ladder trucks many years ago. (Submitted by Don Snider)

“It’ll be disappointing to have them go because, the ’58, I did a lot of the work on it, the repair work,” said museum president David Dodsworth. “But if we’ve got to sell them to raise money to support the place to keep it going, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The museum, which has struggled to find an affordable location, has launched a GoFundMe campaign. In the meantime, Dodsworth said they’ll likely begin advertising the trucks this week.

Donations aren’t enough

The museum, located in an old fire hall on Highway 2, has black-and-white photographs, equipment and memorabilia from Halifax Fire, which organized in 1754, just five years after the city was founded.

It’s open from May to October and this year saw about 150 visitors, said founding member and retired captain Don Snider. But he admits it can be hard to entice people to venture off the highway, despite large signs advertising the museum’s existence.

Those who do drop by “throw in a couple dollars or $10 or whatever and that’s just not enough to be able to cover the rent,” he said.

What visitors are most drawn to are the bright red fire engines.

“When anybody comes in with children, the first thing they do is they want to get their picture taken behind the wheel,” said Snider. 

[Fire service] is a family and we want to share it, and the museum is a way to share it.”– Don Snider, founding member of the Regional Firefighters Interpretation Center

When the 1958 LaFrance was donated to the museum about a decade ago from Etobicoke, Ont., the red paint was faded to pink and it was starting to rust. Dodsworth and a few others lovingly restored it. 

The trucks are the main attraction for kids. (Regional Firefighters Interpretation Center)

The other truck, a 1971 LaFrance foam pumper, came from Port Hawkesbury. It was the last truck of its kind to be built by the company in Canada.

Snider said if they’re able to sell one or both of the trucks they’re hoping to replace them with vintage vehicles from the area. Dodsworth, for example, owns a truck called the Bedford Village Queen that he rode back in the 1960s.

What happens to the artifacts?

Some of Snider’s favourite pieces in the museum are the old photographs that date back to the 1800s. Some show volunteers shoulder-to-shoulder wearing nothing more than rubber coats that resemble sou’westers. They don’t have helmets or breathing apparatus.

Snider says he feels connected to those men.

“It’s a family and we want to share it, and the museum is a way to share it.”

The museum’s collection includes a display of the Upper Hammonds Plains Volunteer Department. When it formed in the 1960s, it was the only all black fire department in Canada. (Submitted by Don Snider)

If the museum is forced to close, the big question will be where to put all the photographs and other artifacts, although Snider is adamant that they won’t be sold.

His dream is to see them displayed in a larger museum in the centre of Halifax, somewhere people will be more likely to visit and learn about the hidden history of Canada’s oldest fire service.

“It’s something to be proud of and we’re just hoping that if the day comes that we have to close that, somehow or other, a miracle will happen,”  he said. 

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